The Healing Power of Humor

By Maud Purcell, LCSW, CEAP

The Ojibway tribe recognized it. The Old Testament even references the healing properties of humor: “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine.” Although our ancestors couldn’t explain it scientifically, they knew intuitively that laughter was good for the body as well as the soul.

More recently Norman Cousins, in his book “Anatomy of an Illness,” describes how he cured himself of a debilitating disease through the use of humor. He reportedly watched old Marx Brothers movies and laughed uncontrollably. He believes his own laughter cured his disease. He subsequently lived a long and healthy life — well into his 80s!

Today we have a better understanding of how laughter affects human physiology. It:

  • Reduces pain. Our bodies produce pain-killing hormones called endorphins in response to laughter.

  • Strengthens immune function. A good belly laugh increases production of T-cells, interferon and immune proteins called globulins.
  • Decreases stress. When under stress, we produce a hormone called cortisol. Laughter significantly lowers cortisol levels and returns the body to a more relaxed state.

The other good news is that humor has a positive impact on intellectual and emotional functioning. It:

  • Helps put life’s trials and tribulations into healthy perspective by making them seem smaller.

  • Aids us in overcoming fear.
  • Allows us to take ourselves less seriously.
  • Triggers our creativity.

As you can see, humor can be the curative our ancestors professed it to be. But how can you incorporate more laughter into your life, when you are already overwhelmed by daily demands? Won’t humor be just one more thing to add to your “to do” list?

Fortunately there are ways to bring levity into your life without adding extra pressure. Find one of the following methods that works for you:

  • “Humor up” your work environment. Bring kids’ toys to work and keep them within reach. When you are stressed, take out a toy and play. That irate customer on the phone will have no idea that you are keeping your cool by playing with a Slinky. Place funny pictures of friends and loved ones around your office, including ones of you when you were a ridiculous-looking kid.

  • Create a humor file. Fill it with funny cartoons, sayings and jokes, as you run across them. When things are looking particularly grim, refer to your file. You’ll get a good laugh and be able to put things back in perspective in no time.
  • Create sitcom situations. When you find yourself in a nerve-wracking situation (such as locking your keys in the car), think of how Groucho or Lucy would handle it.
  • For recreation, do some of the things you did as a kid. Go to the zoo, an amusement park, bowling or swinging — the sky’s the limit! You’ll find that these activities completely take you away from all of that “heavy” stuff. And the escape will do wonders for your attitude.
  • Exaggerate a stressful situation. Take your situation and make it even bigger than it is. You might think this will cause more stress; however, blowing the problem up will allow you to see the absurdity of it, and afford you a great belly laugh.
  • Invite friends over for a “come as you are” party — and insist that they come as they are!
  • Host a slumber party. You’re never too old! Have friends bring pillows and blankets, eat junk food, and stay up all night telling scary stories. Trust me, this will provide you with a new perspective — a hysterically funny one.

You have a choice: You can continue to be a “grown-up,” and let all of the frustrations and disappointments in life weigh you down, or you can introduce levity into even the toughest circumstances. If you “let a smile be your umbrella,” you are likely to enjoy each day to its fullest and spend less time at the doctor’s office.

 

APA Reference
Purcell, M. (2006). The Healing Power of Humor. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 24, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/the-healing-power-of-humor/000437
Scientifically Reviewed
    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Jan 2013
    Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.

 

 

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